Bringing you the best of Bristol Bites – the definitive guide to food and drink
With a few notable exceptions, I’ve not had the best experience when dining at hotel restaurants – and therefore don’t generally view them as an option when deciding where to go for dinner with friends. After a midweek meal at The River Grille, however, I might start exploring hotel restaurant options more often…
The River Grille restaurant, attached to The Bristol Hotel, however, doesn’t actually feel like a hotel restaurant. Hotel access is via Prince Street, and the restaurant has a separate entrance for non-guests on Narrow Quay. Moreover, there is no visible hotel branding (at least, that we could see) in the restaurant itself, making it feel more like a standalone venue.
We were greeted by the maitre d’ and shown to a table next to the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the river, and the hustle and bustle of nearby Za Za Bazaar – quite a contrast to the more formal, sedate atmosphere of The River Grille. Saying that, the restaurant was not at all stuffy or pretentious. An interesting mix of diners (families with small children, couples, groups of friends and what we assumed were solitary business travellers staying at the hotel) added a nice level of background noise and activity to our meal.
After ordering our soft drinks and being given our tray of bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar (which was later replenished without us asking), we turned our attentions to the menus. The standard a la carte menu at The River Grille is accompanied by a one page Table D’Hote set menu, which executive chef Paul Riley changes weekly. Priced at £16.95 for two courses or £19.95 for three, the menu features 4-5 different options for each course.
One thing that we found slightly odd was that the main menu very clearly states which options are vegetarian and which are gluten free, but this is not carried through to the Table D’Hote menu. I’m sure, however, that the restaurant would be able to advise which dishes from this menu are suitable for specific dietary requirements.
My dinner companion and I both ordered the same starter from the a la carte menu: the Jerusalem artichoke soup with chorizo picante ravioli (£6.50). First impression? An enormous portion! A bowl of this alone would probably suit those with a smaller appetite than ours.
The soup itself was lovely and creamy, with the earthy flavour of the Jerusalem artichokes making for a hearty and warming dish. The two ravioli sat in the centre, and while the pasta was a little bland (although perfectly cooked), the chorizo more than made up for it. Breaking into the ravioli infused the whole bowl of soup with the fiery oil from the sausage, giving the soup a whole new depth of flavour.
My dining companion satisfied her steak craving with her main, choosing the 227g ribeye (£22.50), served medium rare with twice-cooked chips, vine tomatoes and a peppercorn sauce. The steak was beautifully cooked, with the restaurant’s grill giving a wonderful charred flavour to the outside of the meat.
She was very enamoured with the mini saucepan containing her peppercorn sauce, and impressed overall. Her one niggle (which, as she points out, is down to personal preference) was that she would have preferred the chips softer in the middle.
For me, the roast rump of lamb served with haggis, swede fondant, potato puree and a Drambuie jus (£19.95). Trimmed of fat and served medium rare, the lamb was delicious. The incredibly buttery potato puree and the haggis were both quite rich, but offset nicely by the sweetness of the swede and Drambuie. Very impressed.
Bizarrely for me, I didn’t choose the cheese option instead of dessert. It was very tempting, though, as The River Grille boasts a far more diverse cheese selection than many places that I’ve recently visited. Instead, I went for the dark chocolate and cassis mousse with blackcurrant sorbet (£6.50). The mousse alone would have been big enough for a dessert portion after my first two courses, topped with a thin layer of blackcurrant jelly and using dark chocolate that gave a nice balance between bitter and sweet. The scoop of sorbet, on the other hand, was incredibly sweet (a little too much so for me, but again that’s down to personal preference), and I liked the surprise addition of popping candy.
Vanilla pannacotta with a bruschetta of roasted fruits (£5.95) was my friend’s choice: while impressed with the flavour of the bruschetta, she commented that the texture was a little firm for her personal taste. The mixed fruits were lovely and tart, but could have done with a little more juice to soak through the slice of brioche on which they sat.
We finished our meal with a peppermint tea (impressed to see the use of fresh mint rather than teabags as standard), and coconut and caramel petit fours which were a great end to a great meal.
What really made our evening was not just the food, but the service. ‘The perfect balance of being attentive without being irritating’ was how my friend described it, and she’s right. Throughout the meal, service was discreet and efficient, but we had no trouble catching someone’s eye when we needed something.
Towards the end of our meal, the food and beverage manager headed over to our table for a chat: asking about our meal, whether we were hotel guests, and telling us about the live jazz trio that play in the restaurant on Saturday nights. At first we assumed that he had only approached us due to the fact that they knew we were there to review…but when he continued to give the same treatment to other tables, we soon realised that he really did care about what customers think.
Enjoyable meal, relaxed atmosphere, fantastic service. A winning combination meaning that The River Grille is definitely somewhere that we’ll be revisiting in the future.
Note: On this visit, our meal and drinks were complimentary, for review purposes. The restaurant were aware of who we were when we dined.